Monday, August 27, 2012

The Other Digital Thing IKEA Did With The Catalog

The story of how around 12% of the latest IKEA catalog was not photographed but digitally rendered has made the rounds all the way to the Wall Street Journal, but oddly I haven't seen mentions of the other digital feature of the IKEA catalog: the paper catalog unlocks content on a mobile application. Now that I consider real news. 

Frankly, I am surprised IKEA is so late to the digital-rendering party,. Indeed considering the geographical color and sizing variations they have to deal with; it would seem a lot easier to digitally retouch a kitchen to a darker shade and adjust the fridge to be free-standing instead of built-in (a strong difference in kitchen design between the US and Europe) than to have to build a new kitchen in the studio, but I guess shooting rendered furniture to the quality the catalog demands really was quite the challenge.

But in the catalog that landed on my doorstep, many pages have a small icon with the text 'Scan to unlock extra content.' Page two of the catalog explains what that means: you can download an app on a smartphone--I found one for Apple mobile devices and Android--and if you scan the page, more content will be downloaded over, preferably for a speedier experience, your WiFi connection So I made a video to show you what that looks like.

I have to apologize here for the quality. Usually when I watch vlogs of unboxings and rants and tutorials I always shake my head and scream at YouTube that the videographers should have bought a tripod already, and learned how to switch on the macro setting, and rehearse once or twice! Alas, when it comes time to make my tech video debut, I am far away from my home with my toys, in a rented flat with some random portable tech, no tripod, bad lighting, and no better place to do this than a table. I apologize and promise not to yell at videographers anymore through the screen.

The app is a little slow to start up and to start scanning, but it works well on my New iPad and iPod and the shots look gorgeous on the Retina displays. The 3D models look cheap and ugly, though. It drastically failed to show anything useful on my small Sony Xperia Mini Pro, and I quickly stopped trying. The scanning of a page is not too difficult to get videos and photos, but trying to see a 3D model from more than the top is difficult; turn the phone too much to examine the front and sides and the model disappears.

It is a fun little game for about 30 minutes, if you can stop yourself from simply going to the website and seeing the same content. Some videos are really not that interesting; watching how a set is perfectly dressed up by professionals to look like a too-beautiful-to-be-true bohemian chic dinner party only made me feel like they were cheating--if I was a pro stylist my parties would look awesome too--and two of the four 3D models I found showed something useful: how the doors fold open on the TV bench and how table leaves were stored in an extendable table.

I think that is my main negative with this system: for a company that makes such functional products, they seem to have invested a lot of money in something that isn't quite there in functionality. Well, isn't right now: as a way to showcase more content and details about a room set-up that simply could not fit in the catalog it is pretty darn good already. But once this platform works, I would consider it mandatory for every piece of convertible furniture in the catalog to have an associated video to show the transformation. Scanning might be as easy for an able-bodied person as typing the name of the sleeper sofa or extendable table in the catalog app to find the video, but if you have to have the app open anyway to see it, scanning is far more fun. Equally useful would be walk-throughs through the small spaces IKEA is so good at making live-able with a lot of little tricks, tricks that are hard to show in a catalog but easy in a well-produced video or 3D model.

So, like learning how to credibly render interiors without having to physically build them, learning how to tie in digital content with catalog content is a good idea too. IKEA now has a platform to deliver more useful inspirational and far more useful content next year, now that they can see what works and what doesn't.